is president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy
I have been around Philly so long that people often stop me on the street to complain. Sometimes I even know them.
They complain about elected officials and their sense of entitlement.
They complain about the absence of big, competing ideas to exploit the city's considerable strengths or conquer its innumerable problems.
Regardless of their own political leanings, they often get around to complaining about one-party rule.
The need for genuine political competition in Philadelphia is the reason the good-government watchdog I represent, the Committee of Seventy, believes voters should approve a change in the Home Rule Charter on May 20 that would allow elected officials to run for another office without resigning.
Seventy is rigorously nonpartisan. I consider the longtime Democratic Party boss, Congressman Bob Brady, my friend. But neither of these things means we believe that Philly's calcified political environment shouldn't change.
Eliminating the resign-to-run rule, as it is known, won't guarantee genuine political competition. If it helps disrupt the status quo just a little, then it's worth your vote. What this town really needs is better private and public leadership. On the public side, that requires - for starters - a greater number of qualified challengers for elective office.
There are plenty of reasons Philadelphia's political climate is so sickly. One is that an elected official now must place a very big bet - quitting his or her job - before entering a race for higher office in the city or the state. Would you be quick to quit your job before even seeking another one? Would The Inquirer writer who editorialized against a change in the resign-to-run rule?
When the Committee of Seventy helped drive the adoption of the Charter in 1951, after decades of one-party, often crooked Republican control, good-government types argued that pols shouldn't be allowed to advance their careers on taxpayers' time - and probably with the help of their taxpayer-paid lieutenants. Opponents of a change in the resign-to-run rule still feel the same.
I am not siding with the politicians here. I have trouble sleeping when I do. But voters should consider the facts.
In the 63 years since resign-to-run was adopted, there have been very few truly competitive races for mayor. In part, that is because the rule discourages sitting officials from entering a bigger game, including somebody like Council Republican leader Brian O'Neill, who is one shrewd guy in a lackluster legislative body.
Only a couple of the other big cities in the country have a resign-to-run rule. Congress and the Pennsylvania General Assembly do not.
When Councilman David Oh starting selling his proposal to get rid of the resign-to-run rule, he said, "If the Committee of Seventy hates it, I won't do it."
Seventy had two deal-breaker issues:
The change had to be written in such a way that it would not help the officials who voted for it in the 2015 municipal races.
More important, if resign-to-run is eliminated by the voters, an elected official won't be able to run for two offices at the same time. The official can serve out his or her term, but there will be no safety net. Especially in Council - where the number of terms a Council person can serve is not limited and probably never will be - that could mean an opportunity for fresh blood.
Despite Oh's gracious remark about the Committee of Seventy, his colleagues in Council supported both these ideas. Now the proposal to get rid of resign-to-run goes to the voters, who killed a similar proposal in 2007 because it seemed to them to be a benefit to the political class.
In fact, a yes vote for this ballot question is a step toward shaking up the political class.